Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hillbillies must go outside.

I know that I am not alone in this, but if I don't get outside--doing practically anything--several hours each day, I go crazy. (Ask my wife.) The problem is that, in our modern world, it is difficult to get outside every day for extended time. Statistics show that the average American spends about 90% of his/her day indoors! That leaves only 10%--2.4 hours--of outside time. And that's on average, which, I think, includes those people who work outside all day.

A couple of years ago, I created a spreadsheet for recording hours spent outdoors each day, and I tracked each minute using the chronometer on my watch. I live and work at a boarding school on 300 acres. I walk to work, take short walks at every possible moment throughout the day, run or walk or garden in the afternoons, and spend time, even in the cold weather, sitting on the porch reading or watching the bird feeders. How many hours a day outdoors did I manage to get, on average? Three, which is 1/8 of a day or 12.5%. That's it. It is simply not enough for me or for anyone, I argue. We have evolved out-of-doors. We slept outside, even. Everything we did was outdoors. And now, at 5 a.m., I sit at my kitchen table, the roar of I-40 audible even through these walls and doors, and type.

Why is The Hillbilly Environmentalist writing about this? Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about our elected officials and their certain disengagement from nature. When I see Scott Pruitt confirmed by the Senate to "lead" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I wonder where we are headed. When I see Paul Ryan brag about killing regulations that are protecting the ancient mountain streams of Appalachia, in the futile effort to save a couple of jobs in the dying coal industry, only to leave behind streams flowing orange, I wonder.

The old adage "If you don't love it, you won't protect it" comes to mind. The British writer George Monbiot stated it like this: "If children lose contact with nature they won't fight for it." In a 2012 article in The Guardian, Monbiot writes, "Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection."

I don't know much about the lives of Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan. But I can surmise that as adults they rarely, if ever, get outside to enjoy the natural world. How could they? Days spent commuting to work, in meetings, in towers. Where are the trees?! How could they even know that we've lost 60% of the total number of vertebrates (e.g., birds, fish, mammals) on the entire planet since 1970?! That we have lost 80% of the total number of fish we had in 1970? That it is only getting worse, with habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, and invasive species creating a cocktail of destruction?

Why would they care about the wild public lands of the West, or about a cold mountain stream in West Virginia which was once home to beautiful brook trout? Drill them. Mine them. F**k them.

It's up to us, and I guess that it always has been. WE have to be the defenders of natural world. Scott Pruitt can't and won't. None of his type will. What right do they have to destroy it?

Signing off, here are a couple of recent haiku:

     for a moment, at least
     only birdsong
     not politics

     big moon still there,
     it's blue-gray splotches
     monday morning

I'd write more, but it's time to go outside ...


  1. One of my favorites! Thanks for saying what we're thinking!

  2. Good job, Mike. I'm heading out now, but on my bike.

  3. Hey Mike, does my time on planes count as time outside? Just got back from Beijing and had the rare treat of seeing the mountains. Then the smog closed back in.